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Cooking under the Arctic Circle

My sister has just moved to Chesterfield Inlet, Nunuvut. Food is a serious challenge up there. A stale loaf of bread is $5. I am compiling a list of ideas to help her make some interesting meals considering the extreme lack of variety from the store. Have any of you any ideas? They can order in but it costs a fortune - by weight. Also, they get out for one month every six months and can buy food to take back. She hasn't been a very adventurous cook in the past, but I think she would appreciate some ideas now!


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  1. What kinds of foods does she have available to work with and what kinds of things does she like?

    1. A good friend lives in Fairbanks - the bigtime compared to where your sister is. Even so, she says grocery supplies aren't dependable: if the supernarket has an item you like, you'd better stock up, because you may not see it again for many months. She says that on flights from Anchorage, people always have bags of groceries. When your sister gets away to shop, she should look for dried beans and fruits - less weight to carry, and store well.

      1. I have friends who spent time up there flying for Ken Borek. I'd suggest shipping her a care package. Prices are ridiculously expensive and they're bound to get worse with the rise in gas prices. I'll be seeing some KB people tomorrow if I come up with any better ideas I'll let you know. Best of luck to your sis.

        1. I'm not sure what she has to work with. I know they have shipped a bunch of groceries and she doesn't 'do mixes'. She has a bread maker. She is a typical prairie girl so has simple tastes, thank heaven! All I can think of is to make stock from absolutely anything you can get your hands on. Render any fat you can. Buy cheap cuts of meat - pork butt, stewing beef, etc. Dried fruits, nuts and spices for flavour boosters. Use dried bean, etc. And zest any citrus fruit before you eat it. Beyond that I don't know. Maplesugar, Ken Borek would be a great resource. The only mix I can think that would be worth taking is lemon pie filling. It is not bulky or heavy but is a nice treat. Eggless recipes would also be a thought.

          1 Reply
          1. re: sarah galvin

            Off the top of my head...depending on how long the flight is she could buy frozen egg beaters/egg whites ...if they thaw she'd have to use them straight away though.

            I'll update tomorrow once I've had a chance to talk to the Borek pilots :)

          2. I live in the mountains of Costa Rica and am a complete foodie, so it has been a challenge to find substitutions and ideas for cooking. Some that I have found are: Substitute celery leaves for parsley, use red onions in place of shallots, cook with lots of dried beans, lentils, etc., and try your hand at making your own pasta. There are lots of delicious recipes for this. And another idea is to use tinned calamari and octopus to make rice with calamari/octopus. Whenever I travel stateside, I always leave enough room in my luggage to bring back my staples that I cannot find here. And visitors are always glad to bring me things when the come to Costa Rica.

            1 Reply
            1. re: chefmurray57

              I agree with using absolutely every part of a veg, such as celery leaves. When we have a good supply, we become complacent and waste too much. I think the biggest enlightenment will come with realizing how much she used to waste in everyday cooking. Making your own pasta! That is a good one. When I visit I will have to get her into that. Also, thanks maplesugar, I had not thought of eggbeaters.

            2. I have many friends who live up north. The cheapest solution to have a varied diet is cooking from scratch if they can order in bulk and have it shipped. A freezer is a must (but not outside because of the bears). My friends would band together and order large quantities of things like flour, pasta, dried goods, spices etc. to ship in bulk to try to reduce costs as much as possible.

              Stews, soups, casseroles, pastas and the like are the best bet to use the dried goods that will be easily stored, so make a list of simple one pot meals and see what the common ingredients are. Beans, lentils, rice, pasta are likely to be the basis of the cheapest tastiest meals, but you need to plan ahead so you can ship by boat. Baking is going to be her best bet for treats, and plus, she will make a lot of friends if she shares her treats!

              Re: meat: she can either look into shipping it frozen (expensive) or sucking it up and using it in smaller amounts as a "seasoning" like in a stew. Sometimes you can buy caribou or char or other items in the store, or sometimes you can ask the hunters. I've had really great caribou tenderloin up there. She may want to consider stocking up on things like a proscuitto leg, cured sausages that can be hung and stored for a long time. They can add a lot of flavour to stews.

              Fresh fruit and vegetables, well, she'll just have to buy what is available. They are expensive, and inconsistently available. I strongly recommend ordering large quantities of good Italian canned tomatoes and tomato paste. This is the best way to get good tomato flavour up there, as the tomatoes are almost always horrible, and canned tomatoes can make a wonderful simple sauce (unlike many canned vegetables, which I usually don't enjoy). Frozen vegetables are usually easily available. So a bunch of recipes that make the best out of frozen veg will be great (Again, stews and one pot meals do very well here).

              Finally, encourage her to practice safe storing techniques. Nothing as bad as finding little wee beasties in the dry goods. Airtight containers will keep infestations at bay, and prevent cross-contamination.

              You have to be a bit creative up there, and you have to plan ahead. Whenever I go up to visit friends, I always pack a whole suitcase of food. It is always greatly appreciated.

              2 Replies
              1. re: moh

                What a treasure trove of ideas! I am going to cut and paste your comments in an email to her. Unfortunately, she is finding that many of the other transplants are buying mixes and prepared foods. I also suggested that she sell her baking! Since others are not into doing it themselves.

                1. re: moh

                  If frozen vegetables are going to be a staple, she should check out an article Mark Bittman wrote a couple years ago about cooking with them. If you go to the NY Times website and search, you should be able to find it.

                2. Does she like country food? Local fish, game, and so on...it doesn't need to be shipped, is usually very fresh and harvested/prepared by those who know how to do it. I understand there are restrictions on selling one's catch or kill, so I'm not sure how available country food is in Nunavut. But it's got to be more interesting (and cheaper) than the stale stuff on the shelf at Northmart!

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: Kinnexa

                    I had an email from her tonight and yes, she had caribou for dinner at a new friend's house. She loved it. After they have resided there for 3 months, they will be able to do their own hunting. Also, will have access to Arctic char. Caribou and char - life isn't that bad is it!

                    1. re: sarah galvin

                      You could do a lot worse than caribou and char...

                      Is her village dry or can she order in wine? She is not in Quebec. I know in Quebec the SAQ is very good about shipping wine to their customers, as long as the village allows alcohol. She should see if this is a possibility where she is. Red wine is just a fabulous way to deglaze caribou pan juices for a wonderful sauce. Also, in the late summer, some places have wild low-growing blueberries that can be used in a caribou sauce as well. The blueberries also make great pies.

                      The char is a lot like salmon, and can be prepared in very similar ways. The Northern marts almost always have fresh lemons and limes, and they keep pretty well. For a nice asian version, a marinade of soy sauce and ginger and garlic is great. Soy sauce keeps well, and is a good staple for the pantry. As for ginger and garlic, garlic should be pretty easy to find in the mart. Another alternative: order in a large quantity of ginger and garlic. Spend a few hours chopping/mincing/crushing/grating large amounts of ginger and garlic, and freeze it in small portions for use in cooking. Herbs can be similarly processed and frozen in little cubes for use in the future for a taste different than dried herbs (I love freezing pesto in cubes, without the parmesan).

                      Sometimes the mart will have smoked char in the freezer section. This can be used like smoked salmon. She should ask if they ever get it in stock.

                      Glad to hear things are looking up! As she gets to know people, I'm sure she'll find others who can help her with the food situation. I find people are very friendly and helpful in those small communities. And as you make friends, people start to share their food treasures with you. It is always fun when someone returns from a trip down south. There is often some kind of party, and food products are shared with glee. Like I said, if she is a good baker, it could go a long way to making life more fun for everyone from a culinary point of view!

                      1. re: moh

                        I was joking about the caribou and char - it would cost us a fortune to get that here! So there are some bright spots. I like your suggestions and will pass them on. I think if she had wine, she would likely prefer to drink it! It isn't dry but expensive to get booze. No it isn't Que. Nunavut is a territory.

                        1. re: sarah galvin

                          Nunavut is a territory, but there are parts of it that are in Quebec the province, and the SAQ (the Quebec government's liquor commission) will make deliveries there for very cheap! Your sister is in a part of Nunavut which I believe is on the Ontario side of Nunavut. She may have already checked into this, but perhaps the liquor commission of that province has some kind of service policy that includes her village, and may be the cheapest way to order wine spirits and beer. Definitely worth exploring.

                          1. re: moh

                            Wow, that's interesting. Actually she is straight above Manitoba on the west side of Hudson's Bay so closest place is Rankin Inlet. Airport also at Thompson, Man. Her SO is with the RCMP so I'm sure he'll get the scoop!

                            1. re: sarah galvin

                              Oh indeed! Her SO should be able to get all the scoop! No problem...

                            2. re: moh

                              I realize that this is well after the fact, but, no, parts of Nunavut are not anywhere but Nunavut (kind of a funny proposition actually). Nunavut has its own laws and the laws of Quebec, Manitoba and Ontario are not applied there. They have their own legislative assembly. There is no liquour store ANYWHERE in the territory and you must by through the liquor system or at one of the very few bars or restaurants that serve alcohol. There the same import restrictions between Nunavut and other provinces operate as exist across the country (which most people seem oblivious to). The big difference in Nunavut is you must always fly in and therefore it is easier to find people over importing. Many communities are dry or restricted. This is important to know as to suggest otherwise is giving advise that can lead to a criminal charge. Nunavik (not Nunavut) is a partially self governing section of Quebec. Nunatsiavut is a partially self governing part of Labrador. Nunavut is a creation of the federal government exactly like the other territories (the NWT and Yukon). I assure the poster no part of Nunavut is "in" Ontario.

                              My friends in the arctic alwys find good online suppliers of gourmet. Maytag blue cheese costs the same in Edmonton as iot does in Chester...if you have to fly it in. Coffee is another staple through the mail. The thing is, everything in the north is more expensive, but you save a ton of money not running to the mall every two minutes spending money. When we lived there (when I was a child) my parents saved more money than at any other time in their lives...nothing to buy! Some of the savings go towards inporting what you DO need. The Kivaliq has some of the best caribou anywhere.
                              As an aside I go to Chesterfield Inlet often.

                              1. re: foodiesnorth

                                Thanks for your comments. You will have to visit her when you go sometime. Tell her that you chatted with her sister on Chowhound. There are only the two RCMP officers, so not hard to find!

                                1. re: sarah galvin

                                  I may well have met them....I was there in my work capacity a year or more ago (a few trips back) and participated in their Tae Kwon Do club run by a local member until he transferred out. In fact I stayed with the member on that trip (and ate there, making this post relevant to chowhound...right??)

                                  1. re: foodiesnorth

                                    They just moved up 6 months ago. Her name is Gloria.

                    2. NPR recently ran a story about what they serve at the cafeteria at one of the research places in the Arctic.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: lgss

                        What is NPR? I'll have to look for that.

                          1. re: MMRuth

                            Thanks! Actually I had just googled it and found it. It is a good resource. I have now emailed my sister a list of all these ideas!

                        1. re: lgss

                          I thought there was something on BBC news about cooking at the South Pole station. I couldn't find it, but there is something on Chow's Grinder


                          I suspect that cooking at a base like that is more like cooking about a navy ship or remote mine or oil rig. Anything that can be stored for months can be on the menu, with little worry about cost.


                          1. re: paulj

                            Yes, cost is likely not a concern. The food becomes a perk. I have another sister who was working in northern Alberta as a nurse at drilling sites and she said the food was amazing. All free to staff.